The Banshee of Castle Muirn 

The Dark Side of the Fairies

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The fairy folk, na daoine sìth as they are in Scotland, could be kind to people, but they could steal and maim and even kill. So how did Highlanders deal with the dark side?

 

Most fairies lived in a fairy hill or sìthean. Anyone, who passed by their homes, often heard music and saw dancing and fine food within. Soon the unwary person was making merry with them in palatial surroundings. But, when he left, he couldn't find his family or friends. He'd spent a few days in the fairy hill, but 20 years had gone by in the real world.

 

When the fairies ate human food, they stole the goodness from it, but left a semblance of real food. After a week or two people, who only ate the changed food, starved. Grace said over such food revealed it to be rubbish.

 

Fòidean or small burning peats were also thrown at the fairies to drive them away. Na Sìthichean (The fairies) usually travelled on an eddy of wind, the oiteag sluaigh. If the left shoe, the toisgeul, was thrown at a retreating fairy troop, they dropped whatever they'd stolen.

 

But the best thing to drive off the fairies was iron. Fairies raided houses when the strong were absent. For at least three days after giving birth a woman needed someone present to prevent the fairies from carrying her and her newborn away. Iron nails driven into the bedstead or iron tools placed under the bed helped repel them. Even an iron pin would give them pause.

 

But the benefits of a fairy lover, a leannan-sìthe, were many. A fairy could give her lover a seun or charm to protect him from danger on the road or in battle. She could make him wealthy or, if angry, she'd thin his herds with her voracious appetit. If he was short-tempered with her, she'd disappear with their children. If he offended her greatly, he was in danger of his life. 

 

The bean-nighe, the washer woman, was a particularly terrifying entity found washing clothes and armour by a stream--the gear of warriors about to die in battle. Because they knew they'd surely die that day, they fought with wild courage and sacrificed themselves to save their fellows.

 

The banshee or ban-sìth was the messenger of death. No hostile man got near her for fear of her strength and magic. They said she wore a beautiful red, green or white gown; and was to be found combing her hair in deserted places. If a man found a such a woman, he should assume she's a banshee and leave her strictly alone. Some said the banshee was old, others said she was young with golden hair. Ordinary folk didn't know that the ban-sìth was not immortal, merely long-lived.


 In my novel The Banshee of Castle Muirn an old wise woman wants to retire and recruit Shona Campbell to replace her. Alasdair MacDonald is enchanted by her beauty and kindness, and falls in love with her. He has no idea that Shona has the potential to become a banshee. She is reluctant to tell him that she is training to become one of the most frightening fairies on the earth. Will he believe fairy lore is mostly gossip and slander of the worst kind? Can Shona become a banshee and still find love?

 

 

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Karelia

  © Sheila Currie  2018